LET’S KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING…

Usually, when I post, I’m hoping to share some little pearl of wisdom I have picked up, or more recently, to extol the virtues of a great new read. Today is different.

Today I want to expose my ignorance, question what I know, and learn from you. I want this post to enlighten me. In the past weeks, I have accomplished more diversity-related research than ever before. But I guarantee that I still have a lot to learn and each and every one of you can contribute.

Diversity in Culture and People as a Concept

I still don’t know how to be the best person I can be, the best writer I can be. Especially when it comes to representing and respecting the diverse world in which we live.

I am actively trying to assess the way I behave, speak, and act. This conversation continues with family and friends, but I also want to have this conversation with the writing community. How should this awakening impact what I write? Being inclusive in my writing is a goal, but it’s hard. Let’s talk about it.

In the writing industry, #WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS formed in 2014. I couldn’t agree more with the ideology that all children should be exposed to books wherein they not only see themselves but see a world of diverse people accomplishing things together. How do I support that in my own writing? I want to include diverse characters in my novel. But I want them to jump off the page, I don’t want to over neutralize character traits. How do I approach this?

As a white woman, I’m not the best candidate to include a POC as a primary character in my novels. The #OWNVOICES movement, another organization actively promoting diversity and integrity in writing, has made that pretty clear. Then, how can I best include multiplicity in my writing?

My answer has been to attempt to include characters of diverse backgrounds but without a significant focus on their differences. I try to present these character’s similarities and how they engage together without their unique identities being a roadblock or issue. Is this acceptable? It feels trite. I don’t feel I’m doing justice to the need to celebrate notable characters from a variety of races, sexualities, religions, etc. What more can I do?

Author Jenna Moreci presented a YOUTUBE video on the subject in February of 2018. She stated, “Your worldview doesn’t have to be limited by your immediate experiences.” She later says, “Diversity in fiction is pretty simple, create a cast of realistic, unique people, write them as layered individuals…” I believe that’s what I’ve been doing. I hope she’s right, but the question remains, is this enough?

Lily Meade appears to agree on her YOUTUBE video of 4/5/2017. Her comments suggest that merely being more inclusive of diversity and people of color, in particular, is a good start. Just be sure these characters aren’t the ones always overshadowed, sacrificed, or in servitude to others but POC characters with depth and meaning and value.

But, there is a very fine-line I need help clarifying. For example, years ago, a member of my critique group suggested my writing was insensitive to Native Americans. Others concurred that I needed to change my manuscript. I was hurt. I was outraged, although humbly. How could I be so misunderstood? I included the people indigenous to the Grand Canyon because how could you write a story in that region and NOT include the Natives? The dialogue in question was between two young-adult male characters, friends in my novel. They openly joked calling each other by nicknames: a Native boy called his white friend “Whitey” and, in return, was addressed as “Chief.” This was a conversation I overheard IRL [in real life] when visiting Arizona. They meant nothing demeaning. I meant nothing demeaning. However, I knew the novel would never be published as written, so I changed it. But am I reflecting the truth? This happens; friends tease each other. Should that not be reflected in my writing? How can I represent that honestly without being misunderstood? Or is it more important to simply be socially correct? I’d genuinely appreciate your opinion.

We’ve learned from diversity educational sessions that we need to be true to the culture of the character. And, one shouldn’t use stereotypes or tropes. Is it enough to research and reflect on their differences to the best of my ability? Is it good enough for me to strive for a socially diverse setting?

different but

I like Heaven Herzman’s thoughts in a Coffee House Writers blog from January 2020— follow diverse groups on social media and simply LISTEN. “Don’t reply… Just absorb their stories… try to understand their point-of-view.”

I particularly like the advice of Johannus Mayes-Steger in his FantasyandCoffee.com blog post of 3/21/19. The best way to become more diverse, he suggests, is to “…experience the world. Learn something new every day.” And so, that is what I intend to do. To continue to expose myself in a myriad of ways to diverse cultures and diverse people, hopefully in real life experiences but also through social media and books.

I’ve been searching social media sites and have looked into a host of references on DiverseBooks.org. This month, I’ve committed to reading books about diversity and others written by authors of color:

BLINDSPOT by Mahzarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald

THE NEW JIM CROW by Michelle Alexander

HAVE BLACK LIVES EVER MATTERED BY Mumia Abu-Jamal

YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN by Leah Johnson

A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN by Roseanne A. Brown

RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson

What would you add to my reading list? What Social Media sites hosted by POC do you love? I pledge to continue to educate myself and to grow to be a more open-minded, more sensitive human being and writer. Let’s keep the conversation going until the day when it’s no longer needed.

REFERENCES:

The First Steps to Creating Diversity in Your Writing. Johannus Mayes-Steger 3/21/19

YouTube video – Tips on Writing People of Color/Writing Diversity, Lily Meade 4/5/2017

YouTube video – Racial Diversity in Writing, Suleiman Ocheni, 11/20/2018

YouTube video – Diversity in Fiction, Jenna Moreci, 2/20/2018

Writing Tips How to Authentically Write Diversity, Bharat Krishnan, 3/8/2019

Including Diversity in Your Writing, Heaven Herzman, 01/20/2020

10 comments

  1. Thank you for the list of resources and for asking the questions that, I think, we’re sometimes afraid to ask. I recently finished reading The War For Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. He is not a black author (Peruvian/Pakistani), but I think his research has a lot to add to this conversation. He writes, “Art — especially in narrative forms such as literature and drama — helps us untether. It makes empathy safer and more enjoyable, even in the hardest circumstances.” So it’s important to have these conversations and figure out the answers, because our storytelling is so very important. I don’t feel like I have any good, concrete answers, especially when weighing what is honest (like your experience in AZ) against what is socially acceptable, but, like everyone else, I’ll keep trying to figure it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marti,
    Thanks for starting this important conversation. I love it when authors are able to infuse their own culture, background, and experiences into the books they write. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan and When the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin are two wonderful books that spring to mind. I think you are the perfect person to write about the Grand Canyon area as you experienced it. When it comes to how characters of different cultures and backgrounds communicate, finding sensitivity readers might be the best way to go. And you’re totally doing the right thing by reading books from diverse authors. I feel that if we’re PASSIONATE about a topic, we should write about it. (per my Writers’ Rumpus post, WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE). We owe it to the world!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Laura. I agree with you about both Girls of Paper and Fire and When the Mountain Meets the Moon – great reads! I will write about what I love. I just want to do it sensitively.

      Like

  3. Thanks for this post — I have been on a hiatus from writing (and reading many kidlit blogs), but the title grabbed me because I think ongoing conversation really is what it is all about. And YES on LISTENING — absolutely! And on getting ok with feeling bad, because a huge part of this ongoing conversation entails accepting our roles in our racist systems and working for change.
    We have to think about and work on what and how we write (and talk and think and act — and vote), and also on the system that we are writing within. Because ultimately — as we all know — writers have so little control about what books really get out there…
    A couple of other books I am reading:
    WHITE FRAGILITY, Robin Diangelo
    SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE, Ijeoma Oluo
    Neither is entirely easy for me, as a white woman, but that’s just how it has to be. Aside from being a woman, I live with a tremendous amount of privilege and my discomfort is nothing compared to what so many people live with daily.

    Like

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